Second Excerpt from “The Making of a Barrel of Wine”

The de-stemmed grapes in the early stages of fermentation are described as “must” – skins of the berries combined with the fermenting juice. The fermentation process causes the suspended skins and stems to be pushed to the top of the fermenter/ puncheon. Managing this cap is one of  the primary tasks of the winemaker. It is critical to keep the cap moist. It is from the skins that colour is extracted  and where the phenolics, aromatics and flavours reside. I chose to leave the skins in contact with the fermented juice for a few extra days, to increase fruit flavours and aromatics. It is all a question of balance: the fermentation process is aimed at getting the best out of the tannins and the colouring and flavour elements in the fruit, to achieve a balance between tannin, fruit, alcohol and acid.

Following the completion of fermentation the puncheon was transported by forklift to the press. The press used was a Willmes with a 2.5-tonne load capacity, made up of a pneumatic bag inside a stainless steel cylinder, driven horizontally to squeeze the juice into a tray below. The press cycle was light and slow. The press load yielded 245L of wine, made up of 230L free run and 15L of press wine. The press loading was set to the 0.5  bar to give the 230L, and then at the 0.5 – 2 bar  to give the further 15L of press wine. The whole process took around 45 minutes.

The juice collected in the tray was then pumped into a storage vessel. From there a gentle suction pump transferred the wine into a 225L seasoned French oak barrique. A special spear fitting was connected  to the suction pump to aid the filling of the barrel and to prevent splashing, a task that took about 5 minutes to complete. The 9-year-old barrique, which bore the markings S.A. Tonnellerie Gillet, 2003, had been re-shaved in 2007 and was in very good condition. This time a handwritten label was stapled to the barrel reading: “Barry Johns – P N 2012 23.6 brix; 24 days – 10% whole bunches; 33% foot stomped and 57% whole berries – This barrel only “. The wine had spent 24 days on skins before being pressed off and transferred to barrel.

The balance of free run and press wine was stored in 750ml bottles, to be used for topping up the barrel over the winter months at 4-weekly intervals – replacing the “angels’ share”: that portion of wine that gradually evaporates during maturation. My barrel remained in a quiet part of the warehouse at Pegasus Bay winery, where I had access when required. The bung used in the barrel was the standard soft silicone stopper, easy to get out and impervious to moisture.

During this period the wine underwent a slow natural malolactic or secondary fermentation (aka MLF or malo). Malolactic fermentation is the conversion by bacteria of malic acid into CO2 and lactic acid. The more aggressive and pronounced malic acid is replaced by the less aggressive lactic acid. It serves to lower acidity and to provide stability to the wine. It is also considered to generally enhance the body and flavour persistence of a wine, resulting in greater palate softness and roundness. Malolactic fermentation can be left to occur naturally, or in the case of commercial winemaking it is more typically initiated by an inoculation of a preferred bacterium. Typically, malolactic fermentation is used only in red wines destined for ageing and selected white wines such as Chardonnay. Malolactic fermentation is quite a different process from the primary fermentation earlier described, which changed the juice’s sugar into alcohol. For my single barrique, malolactic fermentation was allowed to occur naturally in barrel, with the aim of better integration of fruit and oak characters in the finished wine. Malo was only fully completed in mid-February 2013.


As the wine rested over winter and mellowed, my thoughts turned to Mat’s initial remark that red wine is easy to make. I was able to appreciate where he came from in terms of the natural progression of the steps involved from cold soak through to fermented wine in barrel. What he didn’t allude to is the attention to detail involved: the level of record keeping required, analysis, daily tastings throughout fermentation and general oversight of the wine – none of which is necessarily onerous, but nevertheless needs to be done.The aim is for minimal handling of the wine during production. There are a number of variables in the process, such as time and temperature of the juice on skins during fermentation, and colour extraction, which need to be carefully managed.

In this time of quiet pause, I also reflected on what pinot noir is all about. From my own knowledge and experience as a wine producer, pinot noir demands much of both the winegrower and the winemaker. The grape tends to bud early, making it susceptible  to spring frosts and coulure *. The vine is more prone than most to mildew, rot (the skins tend to be thinner than in other grape varieties) and viruses such as leaf roll. Pinot noir tends to produce the best-quality wine when grown in relatively cool climates, where the early-ripening vine will still have a delayed maturity, thereby aiding the development of aroma and acidity in the berries. The Waipara Valley region where we are located is ideally suited to the growing of premium quality pinot noir fruit.

* A French term for a form of poor fruit set.

Pinot noir is considered to be a “genetically unstable” grape variety. This means that it is prone to mutation, and as a result there are hundreds of different clones of pinot noir. It is an ancient variety where the different clones can show significant variation in performance. The Dijon clones, which make up the majority of the plantings in our own vineyard, have their origins in a clonal selection programme instituted by Dr Raymond Bernard of the University of Dijon in France in the 1950’s. Dr Bernard, along with other visionaries at that time, developed the idea of clonal selection – taking buds from vines showing no evidence of disease to establish “mother” vines: clean vines of known pedigree that would supply source material to establish new vineyard plantings free of disease and, perhaps, possessing other desirable characteristics. Dr Bernard made his selection not just on the basis of disease status: he was also looking for diversity in the size and shape of clusters and the growth habit of the vines.